The Carolina Panthers were one of the surprise teams of 2013, which came in large part to Cam Newton’s sudden maturity and leadership. I think he still has a long way to go, but the Panthers showed what their roster is capable of when the defense plays lights out and Cam is out there creating plays with this arms and legs. After stumbling out of the blocks with three out of their first four games, the Panthers ripped off eight straight wins. Their 12-4 record was remarkable and completely proved my pre-season prediction last summer incorrect.
10. Carolina Panthers (2013 Record: 12-4)
Had I known Cam Newton was finally going to mature and become the leader he needed to be, then I could have been somewhat more accurate. It’s going to be tough to follow up after losing a lot of talent to free agency and retirement. The issue isn't so much the defense as it is complete lack of talent on offense. Newton needs some weapons or this team could struggle in 2014, great defense or not.
Key Losses: Jordan Gross (retired), Captain Munnerlyn, Mike Mitchell, Ted Ginn, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Domenik Hixon, Jordan Senn
Key Acquisitions: Thomas DeCoud, Antoine Cason, Roman Harper, Ed Dickson, Tiquan Underwood, Joe Webb, Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery
The biggest hole on the roster was left when Jordan Gross retired, however, the Panthers waited until after the draft to pick up an undrafted rookie to fill the position. With Newton’s mobility, however, this might not be a bad decision overall. The drafting of a legitimate wide receiver thread could open possibilities in the passing game that Ted Ginn and Steve Smith were unable to fulfill.
The 2014 Panthers schedule probably has the most brutal stretch of games ever assembled considering some of those "bad" teams from 2013 will likely be good again in 2014. Starting in Week 2, the Panthers face the Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons before hitting their Bye in Week 12. Ouch! Considering that, I expect the Panthers take a minor step backwards from their 12-4 breakout season in 2013.
Projected Record: 10-6
Kyle: I have read a lot of criticisms surrounding the Kelvin Benjamin pick, which means he’ll almost certainly become a perennial All Pro. Jokes aside, I think the Panthers had a pretty terrible offseason.
Jon: Whew, Carolina missed being jinxed before the season even started by this much! Thanks to Richard Sherman, Cam Newton won’t have to worry about the Madden Curse in 2014.
Mike: My colleagues have some ‘splainin to do for putting this team this high. I think they finish third or fourth in their division. Cam Newton on top of being a two-read guy also has no weapons to speak of. I hope Luke Kuechly scores a lot of touchdowns.
Topher: Lead by Cam Newton the Panthers have a dangerous offense based on a strong, effective run game. Combine that with a defense that rivals the NFC West and you have a quiet contender. The issue they may have stem from two problems, the first is depth at WR, though smartly they are a run heavy team so it doesn’t hurt as bad, especially since they have a competent receiving tight end. The second issue arises from very inconsistent coaching from Ron Riveria who at times will out coach the best in the league and others times make you scream at your TV with his decision making.
Laurie: Despite picking up defensive end Kony Ealy to fortify its D-line, the Panthers still have no receivers on the roster with an NFL catch. That doesn’t quite add up when you have 2011’s Heisman-winning, No. 1 draft pick quarterback. Cam Newton’s promise to be the team’s leader is going to be tested this season.
Jacob: Carolina was undoubtedly the most confusing team of the off-season, letting almost all of Cam Newton’s targets walk, while adding the aging and mediocre replacements of Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery. Newton did receive the gift of Kelvin Benjamin in the draft, who has the potential to be a big-time player, and the defensive line was bolstered with the pick of Kony Ealy. When all was said-and-done, the Panthers have not gained or lost much heading into the 2014 season, and should still be able to pull off a second place finish in the tough NFC South. 10-12 wins.